We spent the past 4 weeks traveling across the country (plus Canada) to attend 5 of the most prominent state beekeeping conferences. Below are some takeaways and impressions from this year’s fall conferences in Oregon, Ohio, Texas, California and New York/Ontario.
Whether you’re planning to organize, exhibit at, or simply attend a beekeeping conference next year, these notes should serve as a useful outline for what to expect.
OREGON - OCTOBER 27-29
Our first conference kicked off with one of my favorite programs I saw this fall. Prior to the actual conference, the Oregon State Beekeepers hosted a Commercial Beekeepers Workshop in conjunction with GloryBee and Project Apis m. This workshop covered some really boring stuff like risk management and food safety laws, but these are topics that very serious commercial beekeepers take very seriously.
It’s refreshing to see programming like this designed to teach important business topics not related to beekeeping. This is something I hope to see a lot more of in our industry. As beekeepers become more business-savvy, our industry will start to become more efficient and competitive. As for the conference itself, I was surprised to see such an even mix of hobbyists, sideliners and commercial guys in attendance. It didn’t seem like the event catered to one type of beekeeper—there was useful programming for all levels. I think some of the credit goes to the Oregon commercial beekeepers for this. Though they have the resources to make the conference all about them, they made sure to make newbees and hobbyists feel welcome as well.
OHIO - NOVEMBER 4
We took a quick road trip to the Buckeye state, where we stumbled upon some more great programming. This conference was almost exclusively targeted at hobbyists, which makes sense because there aren’t very many large-scale operations in the Midwest. One thing that really struck me: each session featured a class about technology in beekeeping. Our industry desperately needs to catch up to the times with respect to integrating technology. It’s encouraging to see hobbyists start to take on this challenge, but we really need commercial guys to step up to the plate and fuel innovation. The Buckeye organizers excelled at vendor coordination. There were 34(!) vendors in Ohio, compared to Oregon’s modest 15. I don’t mean to throw shade at Oregon, but that is seriously impressive for an event targeted towards hobbyists.
Special shout out to organizer Dawn, who went way above and beyond. Dawn made sure lunches and water bottles were delivered to each vendor’s table, and she even had spare cash on hand in case a vendor needed change!
TEXAS - NOVEMBER 9-11
Texas was a last-second addition to our fall conference tour, so we’re thankful that the organizers were able to squeeze us in. This conference was a lot like Oregon, in that it featured a really solid mix of hobbyists, sideliners and commercial beekeepers. We got a chance to sit in on the group’s business meeting, which turned out to be my favorite part of the whole event. I was really impressed by how well-organized and engaged members were. Although it seemed like the members were mostly hobbyists and the leaders were mostly commercial, members were unafraid to question leaders’ decisions, and leaders were responsive to members’ input. I found it really interesting to watch this meeting in action because I’d never seen such active membership within a state beekeeping association. The success of the Texas Beekeepers Association can speak for itself—membership has grown substantially over the past few years.
CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 14-16
California’s conference was seriously impressive. This conference was like the Academy Awards for beekeeping; all the big players were there. I probably looked like a little kid being taken on a tour through a MLB clubhouse. There was so much to take away from this conference. For one, there couldn’t have been more than 5 hobbyists in attendance. Although it was good for business to get engaged with so many commercial operations, it would be nice to see the interests of California hobbyists represented a little better. The diversity of vendors and industry stakeholders made up for the lack of hobbyists to a certain degree. All sorts of companies came out to Lake Tahoe to show off their products; from hive equipment to pharmaceuticals, and from insurance to trucks. If you use a product for beekeeping, there’s a good chance that the manufacturing company was in attendance. Easily the best part of the programming was the vendor’s reception on the first evening. Given the busy nature of beekeepers, it can be a challenge to get connected with others in the industry. The reception was a prime opportunity to network with key customers and partners, without the usual pressure of selling.
NEW YORK & ONTARIO - NOVEMBER 16-18
After narrowly escaping a snowstorm in Lake Tahoe, we enjoyed 3 sleepless flights with non-stop turbulence before arriving a few hours late to our final conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The Empire State Honey Producers Association and Ontario Beekeepers Association joined forces for this conference, and they did a masterful job. As you might expect, we were feeling a little groggy by the time we set up our table. Luckily, the event organizers knew how to satisfy such weary travelers; permanent coffee stations and a phenomenal lunch spread were perfect energy boosters to help us through the rest of our 48-hour day. The food and coffee weren’t the only highlights to note here. What really struck me was the cooperation between American and Canadian beekeepers. It must’ve been quite a challenge to create a program that integrates content relevant to both American and Canadian beekeepers, but the organizers pulled it off flawlessly. Certain compromises were necessary—for example, American vendors couldn’t take their wares across the border. Still, there was a good mix of American and Canadian vendors, and the attendees didn’t seem to mind.